Criticisms intensify in Microsoft EU appeal trial

— 4:26 PM on April 27, 2006

On the second-to-last day of Microsoft's appeal trial of a 2004 European Commission antitrust ruling, an EU judge has questioned the penalties imposed on the company. The ruling forced Microsoft to share trade secrets with competitors, ship a version of Windows without the integrated Windows Media Player, and pay a $617 million fine. On Monday, Microsoft claimed that the media player-free Windows XP N was a "spectacular failure," and that it failed to sell in significant quantities. Today, Judge John Cooke asked whether "competition rules require that [trade secrets] be taken away from Microsoft, conveying a huge commercial advantage." Cooke also questioned the actual impact of sharing trade secrets:

"What are the new elements that can be expected by rival products if the Commission remedies are allowed?," Cooke asked.

Whelan replied: "You can imagine two scenarios..."

Cooke cut him off: "Let's not imagine for the moment."

In an attempt to answer the question, the Commission showed a sample storage device with networking capabilities that was reportedly smaller, cheaper, and more efficiently implemented than one of Microsoft's products. Finally, Cooke and court president Bo Vesterdorf attempted to determine exactly how much information Microsoft should be required to divulge in order to make third-party software interoperable with Windows. A Microsoft lawyer added that the Commission was demanding "functional equivalence," which he said required the company to go "far beyond interoperability." The appeal trial is expected to continue until tomorrow, and a decision is expected in a year to 18 months.
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